Continuing the Dialogue on Radioactive Waste Management: Engaging Young Scotland Innovatively
Aims and objectives
This project aimed to identify ICT tools suitable for engaging with young people in dialogue on a complex policy issue. Specifically, it involved the development and testing of appropriate online tools and mechanisms to engage young people in dialogue on radioactive waste management (RWM). Interviews and a literature review informed the research which also involved three scenario-based workshops with groups of young people from across Scotland. The young people assessed a range of “e-engagement” tools on ease of use, appeal, and suitability for purpose; i.e. to help find information, form an opinion, and express their own point of view, whether acting on their own or through a school or youth group meeting. The study was commissioned by the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD). It started on 1st February 2004 and finished on 30th June 2004.
The overarching aim of the research was to design, test and develop appropriate materials, means and delivery mechanisms to engage Scottish young people in the debate and dialogue on radioactive waste management. The more detailed objectives were:
- to identify up-to-date best practice in electronic participation via a literature and practice review;
- to identify up-to-date best practice in engaging young people via a literature and practice review;
- to identify and develop prototypes of appropriate materials means and mechanisms to engage young people online in this debate;
- to develop an engagement plan for engaging the country’s youth electronically;
- to begin to develop an engagement plan for other population groups and the general public, based on the wider application of the findings from the above objectives.
The study comprised 4 main phases:
- Phase 1 Literature and Practice reviews – meeting objectives 1 and 2
- Phase 2 Development of tools and techniques – meeting objective 3
- Phase 3 Piloting, Testing of Phase 2 outputs – meeting objective 3
- Phase 4 Assessment– meeting objectives 4 and 5.
Our study involved developing a variety of tools for e-engagement to a prototype stage that illustrated their role and intended uses. These were then used to encourage and enable young people to “find out” about radioactive waste management, “decide their own point-of-view” by appreciating others, and “have their say” by expressing and exchanging ideas or views on the issues. We identified a shortlist of nine tools in total, these were:
- Blog: A web site organised in diary form, where messages by the author are listed chronologically. Often others can add comments, but the page is focused on the author’s point of view.
- Live question-answer panel: streamed video: A panel of specialists and others involved or affected answer questions live on video, which is ‘streamed’ or broadcast on a website.
- Video Interviews: Similar to the above but using pre-recorded video that may be downloaded on a website or from CDROM, to help get over facts and opinions about a subject.
- Live question-answer panel: chat room: Similar to the streamed video but in this case the panel are represented by the text they type into a chat ‘room’ that can simultaneously be seen by others online
- Game: A website with a quiz format for testing background knowledge, or decision-making game with graphic presentation of interviews with stakeholders, information, and questions on preferences for RWM options.
- Discussion Board: A website showing a list of questions or topics, from which users can pick a topic and see a “thread” of messages and replies about it, and add their own.
- Questionnaire/ opinion poll: A website showing a list of questions where users can pick from the options given, and send their responses.
- Issue Map: An interactive screen displaying a ‘map’ that shows questions or issues, and the associated arguments for and against different options. Users can trace paths through a debate to assess the various arguments for and against the alternate positions on issues and options for change.
- Frequently asked questions (FAQ): A website showing a ‘tree’ of questions and answers that can be explored or searched to find answers that are closest to the user’s questions.
- The study found interest and enthusiasm in using information and communication technology e-engagement tools, to take part in the debate on Radioactive Waste Management through groups that also meet face-to-face, i.e. school classes or youth groups. This is despite lack of awareness and mistrust of information on this issue and the challenges it is seen to represent for engaging the young. However there was little appetite for sustained involvement by individual young people acting on their own accord.
- The study shows that young people with an interest in using the Internet value online tools that can address their need to access information drawn from various sources and perspectives, and exchange views with their peers. Young people were motivated to become actively involved partly as a novel way of using ICT within organised group activity.
- The main barriers to young people’s effective use of such tools are likely to be organisational: coordinating the provision and use of the tools and their content. The tools themselves should be designed with an emphasis on ease-of-use and accessibility
- Rather than seek one best approach, different combinations of tools are required for different circumstances. A ‘one-size fits all’ product may detract from the success of any future engagement exercise, since differences in language and culture (if not technical skill) are likely to exclude younger children on the one hand and older people on the other.
- It will require the active support of the education and community sectors to provide young people with realistic opportunities to use the tools to take part in the RWM debate.
- RWM specialists and decision-makers should be directly involved in the e-engagement. There is a need for non-government stakeholders including environmental organisations to provide their input.
- There is a need for facilitators to lead discussion, face-to-face and online, as well as contributors of position statements and background facts. Some of these should be willing to be interviewed for online publication of their views or experiences, and may themselves be young people.
Recommended next steps
We believe the current study provides a sound basis for further developing and piloting an e-engagement package complemented by further work to assess that pilot as outlined below.
- Before further work is undertaken a Youth Reference Group representative of young people in Scotland should be established to help enlist the support of their peers and relevant stakeholder groups. The input of on-going initiatives such as the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Scottish Youth Parliament, Young Scot, Dialogue Youth and Highland Youth Voice would be highly desirable.
- Extensive discussion of the content and evaluation of a pilot e-engagement is needed, to secure the necessary partnerships with government, industry and non-government stakeholders (local as well as national). These would further develop the content, facilitation, success criteria and incentives for young peoples’ continued involvement.
- The tools and content should be designed to cater for the widest possible age group, by finding an appropriate balance between accessibility and wide appeal. There is a trade-off between accessibility and using multimedia elements to enhance the general appeal of the tools.
- The toolkit should also be designed to avoid duplication of effort on the part of contributors.
- Translations to minority ethnic languages may also be desirable.
- Given rapid change in technology the selection of tools for e-engagement should be reviewed and there is a need for further research on the use of the issue map format. Although well established, this has not been previously applied in e-engagement with young people.
This study has usefully developed our understanding of the use of ICT to engage young people. The lessons learnt through this work are equally applicable to engaging young people on other complex issues. This ‘wider application’ of e-engagement is an important result of the study.
Links on this website
Each publication is linked to its reference
- Organised use of e-democracy tools for young people
- Continuing the Dialogue on Radioactive Waste Management
- E-Consultation, Controversy and Youth